Author Q&A: Ben Clanton

Ben Clanton_vote for books
Hello! Please welcome our special guest today, Ben Clanton, creator of Mo’s Mustache and the graphic novel series Narwhal and Jelly as he talks about his re-issued edition of Vote for Me!
Ben Clanton_donkey
1. Vote for Me was originally published in 2012. Why did you decide to revisit this title?

Ben Clanton: Unfortunately (and I think unsurprisingly), politics and elections haven’t become any cleaner in the past 8 years. If anything, Vote for Me is more relevant now than when it first published in 2012. The divisiveness, name-calling, and mud-slinging parodied in Vote for Me are pervasive realities that people (including kids!) see and hear on a daily basis. I think a humorous take on this can be a great way to open a dialogue. I have written and illustrated a number of books since I made my debut with Vote for Me, but I think this title remains one of my best (and admittedly most polarizing) read-alouds. My hope is that in another 8 years, Vote for Me will not be as relevant . . . that bullying and untruthful boasts and bravado will be less tolerated. My hope is that young readers will help make that future!
Ben Clanton_elephant 1
2. Did you make any changes to this new edition? If so, what are they?

Ben Clanton: Yes, there are a number of changes! Vote for Me was my first published book and I feel I’ve made a lot of progress as a creator and person since it first came out, so I definitely welcomed the opportunity to make some updates.

At first, I wanted to re-illustrate the entirety of the book. I got as far as playing with character design and making a few mock-ups. But there is only so much time in a day! And there was actually a lot to work with in the original illustrations of the book. I found that some small changes made for a big impact, such as changing the background texture! That change alone made the book much brighter and bolder. The speech bubbles and typography were also updated (credit here to John Martz!) and I think that made a big impact.

There are also small changes to the illustrations that probably don’t seem important to anyone but me, such as the shadows under the characters. I’m digging the new shadows! 😂

But the changes weren’t just to the design and illustrations. There is name-calling in the book and some of the original word choices I had made for those scenes seemed too hurtful to me now. With the help of the Tundra team (thanks here to Peter Phillips and Tara Walker!), I went sillier and more ridiculous with the name-calling (i.e. “galumphus” and “dunderdoo”). I have a two-year-old daughter and four-year-old son and I wanted to be able to read the book with them without too much pause. There are a few spots I still either skip or adapt for the younger readers. This picture book skews older than a number of my other titles, such as Mo’s Mustache and Rex Wrecks It.

Mouse also had some line adjustments and additions . . .
Ben Clanton_elephant 2
3. Vote for Me is your first published book. Has your process changed since then?

Ben Clanton: Yes and no! It was fascinating to reopen the original Photoshop files for Vote for Me and see all the painstaking things I had done because I didn’t know there was an easier and more effective way. I didn’t know about blending modes at the time, such as “Multiply”, or about the wand tool. I also tend to use bolder line-work now to help with the readability of the illustrations when the book is read aloud in a group setting.

But my approach to story has also shifted somewhat. Vote for Me came about because I thought it would be fun to play with the gutter of the book as a dividing line . . . to use the opposing leaves of paper for opposing characters. The format inspired me more than those specific characters.

When I start on a book now it is much more character-driven from the get-go. I want to get to know my characters (especially the protagonists) very well before trying to figure out what happens in the book. I’m not sure what Vote for Me would have looked like if I had approached it this way. Donkey and Elephant are probably my least likable protagonists, which makes sense for this particular title. Perhaps Mouse would have a larger part to play if I had come up with the story today?

4. What do you hope readers take from Vote for Me?

Ben Clanton: First and foremost, I want readers to have fun reading it! That has been my main hope for all my books so far. I struggled with reading as a kid. I want to make books kids of all ages will enjoy.

But while I didn’t set out with a specific message or takeaway in mind, I certainly wouldn’t mind if the book starts some conversations about elections, voting, citizenship, service, kindness, bullying . . . there are a lot of potential subjects!
It isn’t even clear what Donkey and Elephant are running for in the book or why they want your vote. So I think the WHY behind all of it makes for an interesting topic. As too the HOW of them going about it. What is permissible? When are lines crossed? Who decides?

If Vote for Me has readers asking questions, I’d be very happy with that outcome.

Happy Narwhalidays5. Can you give us a little teaser of what’s next for Narwhal and Jelly?

Ben Clanton: Shore thing! Book 5 comes out in September and is called Happy Narwhalidays. It takes place when the waters are wintery (much to Jelly’s dismay!). But those cool currents don’t keep Narwhal from feeling warm and bubbly, especially with books to be read, parties to plan, and warm waffle pudding to eat! But what has Narwhal feeling most excited about the SEASon? The Merry Mermicorn!!!

I’m busy now working on two Narwhal and Jelly board books (featuring bubbles and a boot!). And I’ll soon start on book 6 which might involve treasure and rainbows.

Find out more about Vote for Me here:

Vote for MeVote for Me!
By Ben Clanton
Ages 3-7 | 40 Pages | Available now!
ISBN 9780735267589 | Tundra Books
A hilarious political satire by the creator of the bestselling Narwhal and Jelly series.

Hey, you! Yes, you with the dazzling smile! The donkey wants your vote. So does the elephant. And each will do just about anything to win your support. Brag? Sure! Flatter? Absolutely! Exaggerate, name-call, make silly promises and generally act childish? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Soon, the tension mounts, and these two quarrelsome candidates resort to slinging mud (literally) and flinging insults. And what happens when the election results are in? Well, let’s just say the donkey and the elephant are in for a little surprise–and a certain bewhiskered, third-party candidate is in for a first term!

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